How to improve black male graduation rates

Class of 2010
A 2010 high school graduate.
MPR Photo/Tim Post

About 65 percent of Minnesota's black male students graduate from high school, 13 percent above the national average, according to a new report released last week by the Schott Foundation for Public Education. The organization tracks black and Latino graduation rates every two years.

The national black male graduation rate of 52 percent only closed the graduation rate gap by 3 percent in the last 10 years. At that rate, the foundation says it would take 50 years for black males to achieve the same graduation rates as white males.

John H. Jackson, CEO and president of The Schott Foundation, joined The Daily Circuit Wednesday to discuss the report. He said schools are lacking resources, and often fall back on failed methods of over-testing and evaluations when students are failing.

Suspensions are a major problem when it comes to black males, Jackson said. In 2010, 17 percent of Minnesota's black students were suspended at least once. That compares to just 5 percent of Latino students and 2 percent of white students who were suspended in the same year.

"We don't want students who have challenges with discipline to be pushed out of school," he said. "It's not educationally sound, it doesn't help them throughout the educational process. And in fact, there's clear data that indicates it pushes them further away and leads them toward a prison pipeline."

St. Paul Public Schools Superintendent Valeria Silva also joined the discussion. She said her district does over-suspend black males, and they have been working with principals to ensure students aren't being treated differently for the same behavioral issues and getting to the root of the problem.

"Let's look deeper, not into the action, but what created that action to happen," she said.

For example, looking at the time the action occurred could signal a student trying to get out of a particular class or situation by getting suspended.

Paul, a caller from Andover, Minn., said he has been teaching in north Minneapolis for 25 years, working primarily with black males who were at risk of dropping out. He said schools are eliminating the programs and teaching opportunities that work best for his students.

"What I've discovered was simply these are great kids, but they have a different learning style," he said. "They need a different approach to learning and it's not the sit-down, books, test, that sort of thing. It's contextual kinds of learning. And sadly, our career and technical education programming, classes that get kids excited about their future and also give them a chance to learn using a different modality, are being eliminated."

Achieve Minneapolis President and CEO Pam Costain echoed the importance of learning connected to their world after graduation. With the city of Minneapolis, her program puts 2,000 students into professional work environments during the summer.

"We are drawing the link between academic achievement and youth employment," she said. "At Achieve Minneapolis, we really believe that one of the problems for low-income youth and youth of color is they don't see their future. ... We believe it's very important to move kids into employment as teenagers, to be able to see what is possible for them."

What can we do to improve graduation rates for black and Latino boys? Comment on the blog.

MPR News' Meggan Ellingboe contributed to this report.